The world of diseases is a cruel place. AIDS, HIV and Hepatitis A, B and C affect millions of people every year. Sadly, many people contract these diseases without ever knowing much about them, believing “it won’t happen to me.” Then when the unthinkable becomes a reality, what do they do? What would you do? Most are confronted with questions and fear, but there is also help and hope.
The Yuba College series, “Crossing Borders and Building Bridges” held a presentation on Thursday April 20, to raise awareness of the communicable diseases. Janet Frye-Stottman moderated the event and introduced the three guest speakers: Dr. Raj Nijjar, a doctor working with AIDS patients in the area; Sherry Ziegler, a HEP C patient who is involved in the local HEP C Taskforce; and Chris Davis, a local man who is living with AIDS.
There were about a hundred students and faculty in attendance, listening intently to what the speakers had to say, many taking notes. Najjir spoke of the advancements made in medicine in dealing with AIDS and HIV, as well as how to keep yourself safe.
Many people know what AIDS and HIV are, but tend to think it will not happen to them, when in fact it is easy to transmit. The most common ways to transmit are through needle sharing, unprotected sex and sharing personal objects, such as razors and toothbrushes. It is not transmitted through skin or close contact, Najjir reminded the audience, but through bodily fluids.
Sherry Ziegler, the next speaker, was diagnosed with HEP C in 1991, after having received blood transfusions. Much like AIDS and HIV, Hepatitis C is a blood disease, but unlike AIDS and HIV, it is transmitted through blood only and can live for up to four days outside the human body. Hepatitis is divided into three separate categories, each differing from the next: HEP A,B and C.
HEP C is becoming more common. Nearly 3 percent of the population is affected by this debilitating disease. It has been called the “curable” cancer. There are medications available, as well as support groups in the area for patients and family. Drugs similar to the drugs used in chemotherapy are used to treat HEP C.
Ziegler pointed out that people who received blood transfusions before 1992, such as herself, were at higher risk, as are people who received vaccinations during the Vietnam war and who abuse drugs.
She also recommends that if you get tattoos, to make sure the facility has an autoclave: a sterilizing machine that uses high temperature steam to kill germs and such, found commonly in hospitals, dental clinics and tattoo parlors. You should also verify that they use autoclave and that they do not “share” ink, meaning you get your own palette of colors.
The main way of transmitting HEP C, according to a US study, is needle sharing. No matter how much this is stressed, as it has been for years to prevent the spread of AIDS, people continue to do it and, therefore, spread the disease. People can live with HEP C, as long as they take medication and avoid alcohol and smoking.
“Alcohol is like putting lighter fluid on your liver and lighting the match,” Ziegler said.
Lastly, Chris Davis spoke. A 33-year old resident in the Yuba Sutter area, Davis has been living with HIV for almost 11 years. When he was 22, he felt “like something was wrong.” He went in, had his doctor do a test, and went home to wait for the next three weeks.
“Those were the longest three weeks of my life,” Davis said. “You keep thinking, ‘It can’t happen to me,’ but then you start to wonder.”
Finally, Davis received the call from the Health department confirming that he, in fact, did have HIV.
“It didn’t really phase me until I realized I had to now go and break it to my mom,” said Davis.
His mother took it understandably hard, but his parents have been there for him, Davis said. When asked if he felt the support for people with AIDS and HIV in this area had gotten better since his original diagnosis, he agreed whole heartedly.
Najjir added that, with the advancements in treatments for the virus, people were living longer than before. Davis has changed his lifestyle since then while taking his medication. In doing this, he is healthier than most would think.
“Notice I don’t have any sores on my mouth, in it,” Davis said, pointing to his mouth.
It’s a scary thought, to think that one simple decision can leave with a disease that will, in the end, take your life. But that was the point of this presentation: to make people aware of the fact that, yes, these diseases are transmittable, they will slowly kill you and you can prevent them.
For more information on AIDS and HIV, you can request pamphlets from your healthcare provider. There will also be free screening at health fairs at both Yuba and Sutter Health Departments. You can call the Yuba County Health Department at (530) 741-6306 or Sutter County at (800) 371-3177.
For more information on Hepatitis C and available support groups, you can call the Hepatitis C Taskforce at (530) 671-7441.